Sandy Lyle’s dip will need to be renamed. Thirty-six years have passed since the Scot duffed a chip into a hollow by the left of the 18th green at Royal St George’s. Lyle’s two-putt recovery ensured he claimed the 114th Open Championship – by one – from Payne Stewart. Lyle, later the Masters champion, never won the Open again.
It must be a sore point in Scotland, the home of golf, that the cross of St Andrew is necessary alongside just a single player at this Open. Robert MacIntyre dreams of emulating Lyle; he surpassed him during a memorable third-round moment.
MacIntyre sat in Lyle’s dip in two, his hopes of saving par seemingly no better than 50/50. Indeed, the 24-year-old did not make four; he rolled a superb putt into the bottom of the cup from 60ft to conclude a third round of 65.
“Obviously that was a bonus at 18,” MacIntyre said. “You are not expecting to hole that, you are just trying to get down in two. But my putting pace was great all day. I managed to put good pace on it, had a decent line and it went in.”
MacIntyre, who battled just to make the cut over days one and two – he survived by a single shot – had catapulted himself into the top 20 with a four-under-par aggregate. MacIntyre finished tied sixth on his Open debut, at Royal Portrush in 2019. Big events seem to bring out the best in the left-hander. “I am fully comfortable,” he said. “This is where I want to play golf. Every time I want to be competing against the best and you can only be the best if you are competing against them and beating them.
“I know what already is really good in my game. I know where I need to improve and it’s just about keeping on moving forward and not looking back and see what has gone wrong. I want to keep looking forward and at how we can get better. If I can keep improving little bits here and there, we’ll do that.”
There is a bigger picture in play here. MacIntyre is hovering just outside the automatic qualification places – on the European and world points lists – for this year’s Ryder Cup. Another high Open finish, as is now a legitimate target, would improve MacIntyre’s case even as a wildcard for Padraig Harrington’s team.
“I’ve got a lot to gain just now,” MacIntyre said. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that everyone knows about. I know fine well what a good performance here will do. I just need to keep playing free golf, keep seeing the putts go in and I’ll be alright.
“It’s all about commitment. I’m a big critic. I criticise myself as much as anyone will. I know when my game is good and I came away from the Scottish Open last week knowing that my game is good.
“I just didn’t feel I got anything out of last week and it was the same the first two days here. Yes, I managed to get something out of it by making the cut, but I felt I had left something behind. Today was the foot on the gas again and it paid off.”
MacIntyre’s sentiment was in stark contrast to that of Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman tossed a club to the ground in frustration after a wayward tee shot on the 14th. McIlroy had been four under par at the turn but dropped shots at the 11th, 13th and 15th meant a third round of 69. Steps forward for McIlroy just now are continually offset by the same number, or more, back.
“The front nine was great,” McIlroy said. “It’s turning that nine holes of golf into 18 holes and then turning 18 holes into an entire tournament. There are signs there it is going in the right direction, unfortunately I couldn’t keep it going for the rest of the round. It was nice to see some of the shots I hit, I holed some putts and got the crowd going a bit, which was nice. I just unfortunately couldn’t keep it going all day.”
McIlroy was only half smiling when asked what he was most looking forward to on the final day of this major. “It will be the last round I play here for a while, which is a joy,” the 2014 champion said. “I’ll try to shoot a good score and finish on a high.”